Here are our two youngest children relaxing after a long day of homeschool and agriculture classes…
A prayer of declaration from my solitude retreat, January 14, 2014:
If I lose everything that I currently have – my husband, our children, the Ranch, our spiritual community, my health, the ability to walk or talk, my money, my reputation, my friends, I am fine; I am letting go of everything, in this moment, forever. I am letting go of any worry I have about our finances, my role as a wife, the future of the Ranch, the spiritual growth of our children and their purposes as adults, the lives and souls of my students, all of the pains and injustices of the world, all the lost people. I cannot change the world; I cannot save it – only You can, and if You use me in any small way, from the depths of my heart I will rejoice for having been used by the King. I am letting go of any desire for control, for power, for autonomy, for recognition, or a position of leadership and influence. If I lose everything in this world, I am fine. Moreover, I am considering that I have already lost everything, that nothing belongs to me, nobody owes me, I do not deserve anything. If one day I wake up and everything that I used to have has been taken away from me, I will continue onward – perhaps poor, miserable from the point of view of this world, a failure, starting over – but with joy in my heart, knowing that I have not lost the hidden treasure, You, Christ. Help me, Lord, to live like this – completely liberated from the worries that used to torment me. Nothing is mine, and if I lose everything, I will consider it a great privilege to have had those experiences and the company of those people during the time that You permitted. Only You are my treasure, my everything, and nobody can take that away. Liberate me from my worries, from the nightmares I experience about the injustices of the world and all the lost people, the groans of a hurting world, and help me to trust completely in You. Give me peace and rest. I am letting go of everything.
Gleny, our 9-year-old daughter, who I affectionately call “My Wild Gleny” due to her roller-coaster emotions and natural spunk, has taken up the task of writing heart-felt letters of spiritual and emotional encouragement to the people in her life. Both Diana, age 13, and Jason, age 6, have also begun writing letters to others with a deep sincerity, but in this post I will focus on two of little Gleny’s letters that she has written in the last few weeks.
Darwin, Jenae, Erick, and I often write notes and letters of encouragement and love to the children, and it has touched our hearts to see that they, too, have now taken upon themselves the task of doing the same for others.
I have translated the letters from Spanish to English exactly as she wrote them without making any changes.
Diana, my beloved sister:
All of us love you so much – you are so friendly. There are times that we fight when we play, and I like then you tickle me. You are an excellent reader, and thank you because you are my best sister, and Jason is my best brother. My mom, dad, Aunt Jenae, and Uncle Erick, and Jason love you, and everyone from our faith community. I hope that you tickle me tonight, and that you never lose your smile or your God. Thank you for everything.
With a lot of love,
Gleny wrote the following letter to the foster mom that her and her siblings had for two years after the children spent a few hours with her recently in a visit that we scheduled for them. Their beloved foster mom is a Christian widow in her sixties, and we are thankful for the seeds of love, faith, and discipline that she sowed into the children while they were with her. Below are Gleny’s words for her.
For Ms. Irma:
Hi! How are you? I hope that you have a lot of peace and a lot of joy and patience, love, and truth, and with compassion like Christ. We love you a lot, Ms. Irma. I miss you a lot. Thank you for the ice cream and thank you for your love and time for us, and thank you for taking us out for a trip around town. You were the best mom in the whole world. [At this point, as Gleny was dictating the letter to me and I was writing verbatim what she was saying because she still doesn’t have the confidence or educational background to write long letters properly, she looked up at me with a big smile and said, “Just like you, Mom!” and I laughed.] You did not yell at us or hit us, you just gave us punishments. And thank you for teaching us to read even though I did not pay attention while you were explaining the textbook to us. Forgive me for making a lot of noise in the morning every day. Thank you for all of your advice, and thank you for explaining to us when we did not understand something. Thank you for your hospitality with us. If we had not known you, we would not be as we are now. Please say “hello” to… [and she lists over 10 people].
With a lot of love,
Our children have many normal fears that other children have — fear of the dark, fear of trying new things — plus a few extra fears such as fear of abandonment or fear of dangerous neighbors that children who come from stable families do not have. We have worked extensively and very intentionally with the children with the goal that they literally fear nothing and no one except God.
The other day it dawned on me to try to instill this fearless attitude in the children in a tangible way, so I headed determinedly to our porch and began raising the tire swings two to three feet higher than they had been previously. The kids all came to watch, mouths wide open and with looks of terror on their faces, and they asked why on earth I would do such a thing. I responded confidently, ¨You should fear nothing and no one except God. Don’t fear these tire swings.¨
And I left the scene, watching very intently from a distance as the three remained gathered around the tire swings, each wanting to see if he/she could mount the new challenge but filled with the fear of failing. The oldest and youngest half-heartedly tried, but Gleny backed away from the dreadful thing as if the tire swing itself might come after her and fulfill her moribund expectations. Gleny continued trembling and crying (even though no one was telling her she had to attempt the new challenge) while Diana and Jason tried repeatedly and eventually succeeded, which left the intimidated Gleny not wanting to be left out but still held entirely captive by her fear.
Gleny then approached me as I stood passively removed yet intensely interested, and sobbed, ¨Mom, I can’t do it. Help me! I can’t do it!¨ I said lovingly yet firmly, ¨You can indeed do it. I’m not going to help you. You are letting your fear dominate you.¨ Searching her mind frantically for a resource beyond Mom, light shone in her eyes as she said, ¨I’ll bring a stool!¨ I congratulated her for her creative thinking, and she returned quickly with a plastic kitchen stool to help her mount the seemingly impossible tire swing. Literally quivering, she got up half-way and then fear drove her back to solid ground. After several efforts she at last achieved the goal of mounting — and enjoying rather than dreading— the rush of swinging high in the air.
Later that day as the children passed by the tire swings I overheard them grumble, ¨Ugh, Mom raised the tire swings to teach us not to fear anything but God…¨
And my heart rejoiced.
This is the true story of soldiers in training for God’s army of peace.
Our two youngest children, Gleny, age nine, and Jason, age six, frequently get into squabbles as I think many siblings do (I am an only child, so I am not entirely sure), and from time to time the name-calling or annoying gestures will escalate, someone will throw a punch, and then comes the crying, accusations, and furrowed brows.
In these three months since the children moved in with us, we have often – almost obsessively – talked about peace. We talk over and over, crouched down, eye-to-eye with each child, about the Prince of Peace and His desire for them to grow up to be men and women of compassion, peace, and love. We read bible verses about peace, we ourselves try to permit Christ’s perfect peace to pervade our lives as examples for them, and we talk frequently of alternatives to violence – using our words to express our emotions, leaving a situation if we are angry, or, of course, putting on the big pair of red Everlast punching gloves and heading straight to the punching bag on the porch to exhaust our negative energy on the bag rather than on our brother or sister’s head.
Their behavior, relational problem-solving, and communication skills have improved drastically in these last few weeks, but the other day I was in Darwin’s and my bedroom organizing some paperwork when I heard a thump and then a shrill cry come from the adjacent room.
I immediately entered the scene with the mentality of a shrewd detective. Jason sat on the floor with crocodile-sized tears in his eyes after what looked to have been a rather dangerous bump against our living room’s bookshelf. I looked at Gleny, thinking the whole incident had been an accident and that she would serve as my witness – that he was jumping on the couch and then clumsily fell against the bookshelf, or something along those lines – but after asking her very sincerely what had taken place, the look in her eyes betrayed that she, in fact, was the culprit. I then asked very inquisitively, with my eyebrows and voice doubtlessly raised, “Gleny, did you do this to Jason?” She quickly admitted to the misdemeanor, and I praised her heavily for having told the truth and then had a long talk with the both of them about all of the abovementioned topics regarding peace, respect, using our words rather than our fists to express ourselves, etc.
A couple days later a similar episode occurred, and I came onto the scene with a general knowledge that what had happened was most likely intentional. Rather than nervously asking who started the fight or trying to comfort or punish them, I asked rather exaggeratedly, almost playfully, eyes wide open and looking around the room, gesturing with my long, gangly arms, “And where are the punching gloves?” They both quickly forgot whatever squabble they were having and very eagerly ran over to the designated spot on our living room side table’s bottom shelf, and began to bring me the gloves, thinking that I myself needed them and that they were being quite helpful in finding them for me. As they began running to bring me the gloves I interrupted them and said rather dramatically, “Uh-huh? And why are they over there and not on your fists and being hit against the punching bag?” They both stopped mid-stride and began looking at the floor, hopefully being flooded with memories of the many times Darwin and I had walked them through demonstrations of how to put on the gloves, how to hit the bag, the reason for having the bag, etc. Thus I discussed, once again, the importance of being people of peace.
A few days later there was another unpeaceful occurrence, so I consulted Darwin to see what an adequate punishment would be for our two peacemakers-in-training. He immediately responded, “Exercise.”
“Excellent,” I agreed, and headed to the living room to declare Dad’s verdict.
“Onto the porch. The two of you. Now.” They quickly shuffled out onto our large porch, barefoot and in their play clothes. “Push-up position.” Without delay they put their skinny bodies into the required position, side-by-side. “We’re going up to thirty, ten at a time with ten-second breaks in between each set. Each time I count you will do one pushup and yell – and I mean yell – I WILL LIVE IN PEACE.” They looked up at me, eyes eager to please, their arms already quivering a bit from having maintained their push-up position during my initial lecture. “If either of your knees touch the ground we will start over. One!”
In unison two voices declared, “I will live in peace!”
“No. I know you can yell better than that. One!”
Louder this time, they declared, “I will live in peace!”
“Good! Jason – bend your elbows more. Excellence is our goal. Two!”
“I will live in peace!”
As I paced in front of them, their cries for peace resonating into the mountains behind our property and doubtlessly into the homes of our closest neighbors, I almost began laughing, thinking Our neighbors probably think we run some kind of military bootcamp for peacemakers.
They completed the required thirty push-ups, and we were able to maintain peace for the rest of the day.
A couple days later, Darwin and I were resting in our room while the three siblings played on our house’s porch, which is right outside our bedroom window. We heard a couple shouts, and then our eldest daughter said, “Push-up position, you two.” There were a few more muffled sounds and then we heard Jason’s nasaly voice proclaim at the top of his lungs for our whole village of El Pino to hear, “I want to live in peace!” Darwin and I looked at each other, with joy in our hearts, and tried not to let the children hear our laughter.
My dad has asked me twice what our purpose is in raising other people’s kids, why we do it, what we ultimately hope for these kids. Maybe you are wondering the same thing. Do we do it out of some sense of charity that makes us feel warm inside? Do we hope to discover a child genious in the crowd of abandoned children? Or are we merely trying to call attention to ourselves and be ‘good people’?
Each time my dad has asked me our purpose in parenting, my response has been the same: “Dad, our goal is that these kids — who will become teenagers, then adults, then will have families of their own — know Christ and have a burning desire for the things of His heart. You can follow Christ as a doctor, as a poor rural farmer, as a teacher, stay-at-home mom, overseas missionary — you name it. We will educate the children as best we can to give them a good academic foundation, but ultimately we aren’t hoping to form them into average middle-class citizens with good salaries and material comforts. We want them to be attune to God’s call and follow Him, which is different for each person.”
From extensive reading I have done about children’s homes and even some foster families, I know that some are sort of like ‘holding areas’ — stagnant institutions without much growth opportunity or Truth, and the minute a child reaches the age of 18 they are sent out into the world, oftentimes without any real skills or passion. This is why so many of the girls who grow up in such institutions turn to prostitution and the boys end up as beggars and drunks.
Our purpose, contrary to being some kind of charity organization for the less fortunate, is to raise up a fierce yet compassionate generation of Christ-centered servants, people who seek first the Kingdom of God and whose faith is expressed in works of love. We love the children and have this extraoridinary hope for them because we ourselves have experienced the love and forgiveness of God and have the privilege of participating in His eternal purpose. Nothing less.
The girls on my basketball team know very well that their coach is “allergic to complaints.” Last year, our first year together as a team, the girls would often complain of sore muscles or voice their disagreement with difficult drills, push-up competitions and the like. I responded — rather dramatically — by telling them that I have been diagnosed with a severe complaint allergy, so if they want their coach to stay in good health, they’d better maintain their comments to themselves.
This year the veterans on my team of 4th-6th grade girls know that if they complain I will only make the drill longer, increase the number of push-ups, or count slower as they do wall-sits. Recently during our weekly practice one of the girls who is prone to complaining opened her mouth to voice her opinion, and another girl hushed her, saying, “Shh. Coach is allergic to complaints.”
At the end of each practice I have the girls do a series of wind sprints on the school’s old asphalt basketball court. As they run, sometimes up to ten or twelve sprints total, I declare, “I’m testing your character. Let’s see who complains.” They pant and bend over between sprints, but they have finally arrived at the understanding that it is not worth complaining because I will only make it harder — Oh, I do remember the day when my own high school basketball coach yelled, “Run until I get tired!”
As the girls run, one sprint at a time, I say, “Don’t tell me it’s hard. I know this is difficult. Most people in life choose the easiest thing, the path of least resistance, but God’s way, as we are learning, is indeed difficult. Christ says that most people choose the wide, easy road, but the path that reaches His Kingdom is narrow and difficult, and it is the only path that leads to true joy, freedom, and eternal life. Choose the difficult path. Go!” And the girls do another sprint.
Frequently with my basketball girls, gifted and talented classroom students, my own children — really anyone who will listen — I read the following text from the Gospel of Matthew: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
Recently I had each of my basketball players complete a written evaluation of their experiences on the team, what they have learned, how I can support them personally in this stage of their lives, what their view of God is and if they have the desire to know and follow Him. As I read each evaluation, some written with large letters in pink marker, others with small scribbles in pen, some in broken English, others in Spanish, I almost began weeping and rejoicing as I sat there alone on the empty court after practice, all of the girls having already been picked up by their family members, as literally every evaluation that I read revealed — in their own words — that each girl is truly interested in knowing God more and following Him, that they really are listening when we read Christ’s words each practice and that they are hungry for a deeper understanding. Two of the girls even explicitly mentioned how they want me to guide them so that they may enter through the “narrow, difficult gate” and accomplish hard things for God’s glory.
As you read this, I ask that you would sincerely pray for my basketball girls and for the way that God is using me as an instrument of truth in their lives. Ask that I may be given wisdom in guiding them and that as we study the Bible together before each basketball practice that it is not just me reading dead words from an ancient book, but words of life-giving Truth that touch their spirits. Pray that Christ may call each one of these precious girls into a life of humble service to Him, that they may joyfully enter through the narrow, difficult gate that leads to abundant, eternal life.
The following is a prayer I wrote during a solitude retreat I am currently taking in the Cangrejal River Valley near our home in Honduras. I have been struggling with insomnia for several months now, and Darwin and I decided I needed a three-night getaway to rejuvenate spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically after so many recent changes in this last year-and-a-half so that I may return home with renewed energy, vision, and joy.
Monday, January 13, 2014
Without Your power I can literally do nothing. I am like the shallow, dirty waters of the Cangrejal River during the dry season. Although I try again and again, each time making a determined resolution to be better, I cannot even love and respect my own husband and family without impatience, stress, and a rebellious spirit bubbling up from within me. I weep for the souls of my students at the Episcopal School, yet I stand powerless to truly transform their lives, convince them that You are the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Sitting here on a hammock perched high above the Cangrejal River, I can hear it roaring now that the rainy season has arrived, a powerful symbol of Your capacity to transform, strengthen, give life. I already explored the small bed and breakfast’s property, trying to get a glimpse of Your majesty revealed through the renewed and impressive flow of the Cangrejal’s crystalline waters, but with so many trees blocking my view I must be satisfied with merely hearing its roar, hearing Your whisper that that is what you want to do to me, if I allow it – transform me from a shallow, dirty, struggling soul into a powerful source of your strength, beauty and glory, purifying me with the rain of Your spirit, bringing life and energy to what was previously slow, mediocre, worn-out. Transform me, Yahweh. Literally in my own power I cannot love well, cannot open the eyes of my basketball girls or gifted and talented kids to see Your Truth, cannot raise up a generation of Christ followers if I myself am limping along, always impatient, exhausted, and clinging to the little spiritual understanding that I possess, hoping that my words and example will be enough. Carry me on Your waters so that I may rest in Your majesty. A river does not make its own waters flow, does not generate its own energy – You bring the rain. Bring me rain, Lord.
The Cangrejal River
God has changed my plans many times over the course of these last few years, and this is a story of one such time.
Darwin, Jenae, and I were waiting anxiously for the first two children to arrive at the Ranch from Honduras’ child protective agency. Weeks passed by, phone calls and visits were made, emails were sent, and we were getting nowhere. Every time we spoke with a representative from the agency, they said there were no children available, all the personnel were busy in custody cases, or that we had to come back another time because they were swamped with work and didn’t have time for us.
One afternoon, standing on the empty porch of the Ranch’s small education building, Jenae laughed and said, “There are orphans in the whole world, and here we are, three people called by God and ready to take care of them, and supposedly there aren’t any available.”
More time passed, and finally we received a call from the agency: there were two sibling groups available, but each group had three members, which is more than we were originally planning for. The agency told us the first group had kids ages 2, 4, and 6 years old, and the second group composed of children ages 4, 7, and 9. All along we were intent on receiving children between the ages of 2 and 7 years old, because the older a child is, the more baggage he or she has and the more difficult it is to impact their lives.
Or so they say.
Upon hearing of the older sibling group, with a nine-year-old boy who fell outside of our 2-7 range, God spoke to my heart and said that we should take them. Everyone wants the little ones, so if you don’t take the older ones, who will? Isn’t that your purpose — to raise children that no one else wants? I prayed during the night for confirmation regarding this decision, and the following day received unquestioned support from both Darwin and Jenae.
The next day Darwin and I were in the city of La Ceiba, near the government agency’s office, and called repeatedly, almost desperately, to tell them that we wanted to at least meet the older sibling group. After several calls they finally answered, very unexpectedly telling us that that day was ‘visit day’ for all the foster homes and orphanages, so all the kids from the surrounding area would be visiting the agency’s main office that afternoon. Darwin and I looked at each other with a joyful panic in our eyes, rearranged our plans for the afternoon, and began walking briskly to the run-down, bright pink government office that had been such a source of frustration and confusion for us during the previous months.
This time we arrived with hope and anticipation bursting forth in our hearts, thinking Today we may meet our future children. As we approached the office, seeing dozens upon dozens of children in the dirt playground, swinging on old metal swings, or sitting idly waiting for parental visits, I looked at each child, wondering in my heart Is that him? Is that her? Are those — or those over there — our future children?
We entered the rusty gate, and there, sitting all three in a row — biggest, middle, then smallest — were children that seemed different than the rest. I made eye contact with the oldest, a girl, and I think she smiled — or maybe only I did! — and God spoke to my heart, “She will be your daughter.” I thought — How? The government agency said that the oldest child, the 9-year-old, was a boy… — but I stopped the thoughts and chose to trust God’s plan. We were immediately whisked into the director’s office, and then he quickly left to bring us the three children he supposedly told us about by phone. In the depth of my heart I knew, or perhaps only hoped, that she and her two younger siblings would be them, but I knew from a rational point of view that my hope was foolish.
Soon enough the door to the office swung open, and there they stood, her and her two younger siblings waiting somewhat awkwardly, the middle sister stealing shy grins at us. We were encouraged to find a somewhat private spot on the small, concrete property to get to know the kids, and it was quickly established that the oldest one was the spokesperson for the younger two. Not having a script and being filled with all sorts of intense emotions, Darwin and I began asking them basic questions to get to know them — their ages, what they like to do, etc. When the oldest one answered that she was 13, I nearly gasped as I thought, “God, how could we possibly take in a teenager? She’s only ten years younger than myself! We’re looking for kids who are between the ages of two and seven…” But those thoughts quickly disappeared as I sensed God was calling us to obey, to have open hearts and fulfill what He had promised me — that she would be our daughter.
After an hour of talking with them individually and with their foster mom, Darwin and I said our goodbyes and began leaving to supposedly go home and pray about the situation. The children stood behind their beloved foster mom, a Christian widow in her sixties, and watched us with intense interest and we waved and smiled. Before exiting the complex, I looked at Darwin and said, “I want them. I know we said that we were going to pray about it, but I don’t think we need to. Those will be our children.” He immediately agreed, saying that he also had God’s confirmation, so we slid into the director’s office and asked what we needed to do to bring them home with us.
The three of them became part of our family the next day, November 1, 2013.
Diana, our eldest daughter, is a tremendous blessing for both her siblings and us, and she is a powerful example of purity, joy, deep faith, and selfless service. We are so proud of her and daily give thanks to God that He had plans different from our own.
“Don’t let anyone look down upon you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.” 1 Timothy 4:12
Please read the “Who We Are” section of this blog to understand more about our purpose in recording our family’s story in this way. It is our hope and prayer that this blog may prove to be a source of encouragement, challenge, Truth, and joy to those who read it. Please pray for Darwin, me, our children, and community members Jenae and Erick as we all seek to walk together in Truth and Grace. Or rather pray that we may dance upon injustice, proclaiming God’s undeserved mercy to a world full of lies, greed, complacency, and wars.
Thank you for your support, and we ask for your sincere prayers as God guides us on this journey that we have only just begun.